New film doesn’t capture drama of Entebbe rescue

Angel Bonanni (left) stars as Yoni Netanyahu and Ben Schnetzer (right) stars as ‘Zeev Hirsch’ in José Padilha’s ‘7 Days in Entebbe.’ Photo: Liam Daniel/Focus Features


“7 Days in Entebbe” retells the true story of one of the most dramatic rescue missions of all time: the July 4, 1976, raid by Israel Defense Forces to free hostages taken in an airline hijacking and held at the airport in Entebbe, Uganda.

The Entebbe rescue was an event with big names involved: Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin; Defense Minister (and future prime minister) Shimon Peres; Ugandan strong man Idi Amin; Ehud Barak, another future prime minister; and Yonatan Netanyahu, leader of the commando unit and the older brother of Benjamin Netanyahu, another future prime minister.

The crisis began June 27, when an Air France jet took off from Tel Aviv bound for Paris with 258 passengers and crew members aboard. Flight 139 picked up 58 more passengers during a stop in Athens, including two Palestinians and two Germans, who hijacked the plane after takeoff and diverted it to Libya. It ultimately landed in Entebbe, where Ugandan dictator Amin had promised support. By July 1, the hijackers had released all but 106 hostages, mostly Israeli and Jewish passengers, and demanded the release of imprisoned Palestinian terrorists. 

With negotiations between the Israeli government and the hijackers failing, the Israelis hatched a startling plan. To rescue the hostages being held in Entebbe’s abandoned old airport terminal building, IDF troops would have to travel more than 2,000 miles in secrecy and pull off a mission never before attempted. 


It was one the most daring rescue raids in history, freeing 102 of the 106 hostages. The Israeli commandos lost only one member: their  commander, Netanyahu (some may take issue with the film’s assertion that the Israeli commander was killed at the beginning of the raid, rather than the end, as portrayed in past films).

The astonishing Entebbe rescue captured the imagination and admiration of people around the world, and it has been the subject of military, historical and political analysis. It has also sparked several films, both documentary and narrative features.

“7 Days In Entebbe” is the latest film version of this remarkable event. The film stars German actor Daniel Brühl and British actress Rosamund Pike as the German hijackers, Wilfried Böse and Brigitte Kulhman; Israeli actor Lior Ashkenazi as Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin; and Eddie Marsan as Peres.

It is directed by José Padilha, a Brazilian producer, director and screenwriter whose previous films include the hit Brazilian crime thriller “Elite Squad.”  

For a film about such a dramatic event, “7 Days in Entebbe” is surprisingly tame, less an action film than an historical drama. Padilha strives to get the historical events right, but the film is not always as exciting as one might expect. The director lingers too long with the German hijackers, who talk and reflect on what they are doing. The character played by Bruhl spends a lot of time naively spouting ideology and objects to being called a Nazi without grasping how his actions send a different message. 

More appealing, especially to Jewish audiences, would have been focusing on the efforts of the Israeli officials working to rescue the hostages, or even on the hostages themselves. 

The director also seems to make some assumptions about what the audience knows about the time period, particularly about radical far-left militant groups in Germany at the time. Padilha also seems to assume the audience knows this kind of long-distance military rescue mission had never been attempted before, and that this event takes place a scant few years after Israeli athletes were killed by terrorists at the Munich Olympics.

The film alternates between scenes with the hijackers and hostages, and scenes with the Israeli politicians and the IDF team training for the mission. 

The director also makes a bold, innovative choice of intercutting scenes of IDF soldiers training for their mission with scenes of a dance troop, to which the girlfriend of one soldier belongs, as they rehearse a dramatic, percussive modern dance performance. The dance scenes are riveting in themselves, serving as a metaphor for both the military mission, and perhaps the resilience of Israel, but some viewers may find this artistic touch a distraction, particularly when it is intercut with the rescue attempt itself.

The photography leans toward brooding, shadowy images. The acting is fine all around, but the scenes with the Israeli leaders are far more energetic than those with the waiting hostages and hijackers. Unfortunately, the film misses an opportunity to more fully develop the characters of some of the hostages, which are only sketched out.

The strongest dramatic scenes are between Ashkenazi as Rabin and Marsan as Peres, who engage in political struggle as well as searching for a solution to the crisis. Marsan is more often seen in comic roles but holds his own against the charismatic Ashkenazi. 

Brühl turns in a contemplative performance as the German hijacker so caught up in his own rhetoric he cannot really comprehend what he is doing. Pike does well as the other German, more resigned to the reality of how far they have strayed from their original anti-Nazi ideals. 

“7 Days in Entebbe” is a thoughtful look at a dramatic event, a worthy film for its innovative approach to telling this story but less a stirring action film than one might expect.